The Lower Blackwater Region

Youghal Bridge // Knockanore

Postcard

Rhincrew / Rhinecrew / Rincrew was the site of a Preceptory of the Knights Templar founded by Raymond le Gros in 1193 to control the river crossing.

Templemichael Castle may once have been home to the  Preceptory of the Knights Templar, but was rebuilt as a Tower House and FitzGerald stronghold in the C16th, and is now a scenic riverside ruin.

Templemichael parish is thought by some to take its name from the Templars of Rhincrew, although teampail is a common word for church in Irish Gaelic.

Templemichael parish church (CoI), erected in 1823 and in use until quite recently, is now derelict, but through a gap in the door it is possible to see the Smyth family’s crumbling vault.

Ballynatray Estate & Molona Abbey

 

Ballynatray Estate occupies much of the modern parish of Glendine and contributes to the unique beauty of this wooded area. Although it is private property, the land is crossed by several public rights of way.

 

Ballynatray House is a fine Georgian mansion, incorporating some walls of a much earlier house and parts of a medieval castle. It is located on a double bend of the river, which gives the impression of a large lake. (Photo – Irish Waterway History)

 

 The interior was clearly built for entertaining on the grandest scale. There is a sumptuous suite of interconnecting rooms, all with stupendous views; wide, double mahogany doors and some fine early C19th plasterwork. The hall has a frieze of bull’s heads (the Smyth crest) and the billiard room an imaginative cornice of billiard balls and cues. Originally, the bedroom floor had a curious curvilinear corridor but this has since been altered.

 

The land was acquired after the Desmond Rebellion by Sir Walter Raleigh, who sold it along with all his other Irish property to Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, through whom it passed to his son-in-law Grice Smyth, whose descendant, another Grice Smyth, built the current house in 1795.

His daughter, Penelope Caroline Smyth, eloped to Gretna Green in 1846 with Carlos Ferdinando Borbone, Prince of Sicily and son of the King of Naples. The couple went on to marry a further three times – in Madrid, in Rome and in England – but their union was never recognised under Sicilian law because the King of Naples withheld his consent. Penelope was so beautiful that she featured in a book called Some Fair Hibernians (1897).

The Smyth family were apparently very well regarded in the area, mainly due to their benevolence to their tenants during the Great Famine.

In 1843 Charlotte Smyth married Charles Moore, the future 5th Earl of Mount Cashel. Her son predeceased her, as did her young grandson, Lord Kilworth, so the estate passed to her daughter, the wife of Colonel Holroyd, who assumed the name and arms of Smyth. The last generation of the family literally died out in the 1950s. Uncannily, at least half of all the deaths in the family took place on the 13th day of the month. Two of the three siblings of the final generation, all of whom died before the age of 35, also died on the 13th.

In 1969 Horace Holroyd-Smyth bequeathed Ballynatray to his cousins, the Ponsonby family of Kilcooley Abbey, who sold the house to Serge and Henriette Boissevain in the late 1990s. They subsequently carried out a major restoration programme and Ballynatray was bought for some €12m by the currrent owner, Henry Gwyn-Jones.

 

Molana Abbey, founded in the C6th by Saint Maelanfaidh / Molanside, and originally built on an island, was a powerful influence throughout Ireland for several centuries before falling victim to Viking rapacity. It was re-established after the late C12th arrival of the Normans as an Augustinian Priory by Strongbow’s colleague Raymond le Gros, who was buried here in 1186 in a classic Coade stone tomb. The ruin is accessible (on certain days of the week) via an early C19th causeway built by Grice Smyth. (Photo – Irish Waterway History).

 

Ballynatray estate is available for rent in whole or in part, e.g. for driven shoots in season or as a film location.  The house itself is available as a venue for weddings and parties and can be rented for holiday sojourns on a self-catering basis. The old Walled Garden, modern organic landscaped gardens  and exotic new Arboretum are open to the public most days in spring and summer.

Glendine was the scene of a ferocious battle between “the Ravens of Munster” and “the Ravens of the West” in 945 AD.

Glendine parish church (RC) has an idyllic grotto-like setting in a small wooded valley with a tumbling river and a picturesque cascade.

Kilcockan parish is noted for its scenic hilly landscape.

Kilcockan church, probably established in the C6th, was clearly connected with Molana Abbey, and was served by Augustinians from there from c.1200 until King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries. The vault is the longest but by no means the oldest of the graves in this ancient place. 

Strancally Castle

 

Strancally Castle on the west bank of the River Blackwater is a Gothic revival mansion complete with arrow loops and a keep, designed by James and George Pain and built for John Keily in the 1820s.

 

The original castle, now in ruins, was built by Raymond le Gros and later held by the FitzGeralds of Desmond; it became infamous in folklore for its “murder hole”, used by some Spanish tenants around 1570 to dispose of neighbouring landowners into the river below. Stories vary as how it came to be destroyed, but most agree that an early 19th bolt of lightning delivered the coup de grace.

 

There is no access to the privately owned estate.

Them Golden Fields I Trod is a book of local memoirs by Francie Murray, profusely illustrated with black and white photographs taken during the 1930s and 1940s of historic sites, people, and events.

Headborough House

 

Headborough House, on a hillside overlooking the spot where the River Bride flows into the Blackwater, was formerly the seat of the Smyths of Headborough, a branch of the Smyth family of nearby Ballynatray.

 

The house dates from the C17th, but was largely remodelled in 1827 by the Rev. Percy Smyth (who also built a summer residence, now Monatray House Hotel). His son Percy Smyth (1839 – 1910) died of a heart attack on the way back from the funeral of his wife; their three sons died without issue, and her cousin Patrick Perceval Maxwell inherited the house in 1952.

 

His wife was the prolific popular novelist Magdalen King-Hall (1907 – 1971), whose Tea At Crumbo Castle (1949), about the tragic life of an Anglo Irish family, is based on Strancally Castle, while her How Small A Part Of Time (1946) is based on the C18th Anne and Eliza Coughlan of Ardo House (now known as “McKenna’s”), near Ardmore.

 

The property is strictly private.

 Knockanore is an unremarkable village, but its name has been made famous by an excellent locally produced artisan cheese.

Knockanore is within easy reach of Tullow and Camphire south of Cappoquin, all on ByRoute 2.